Tuesday, October 4, 2016

On the Best of Love and the Worst of Fights

Marriage is a stage for two people to act out their deepest dysfunctions.

Or something to that degree.  That is something that Wes and I were told in our pre-marital counseling, and I can't disagree with that. Even in this state of engagement, I am so closely confronted with the flaws I've spent a good deal of my youth trying to overcome, ignore, or cover up.  I've never been more aware of my selfishness, my pride, my anger, my anxiety, my fears.  I can't hide that in a relationship.  And foolishly, to try to hide anything only makes it so much more destructive when the truth surfaces.

This has been a memorable season.  It's a bit blurry, but so memorable.  After getting engaged, Wes and I have been on a nauseating rollercoaster ride.  Except I hate rollercoasters.  I wish we were on a "hilly path" instead, with gentle inclines, and a few obvious crags to step over. Things on our journey would scream at us with yay's and boo's.  Like the excitement of having financial contribution for the wedding would be a big "yay!"... and then we both lose a job or two, and that's a big "boo."  My emotions haven't found equilibrium.  I think I'm getting stomach ulcers.

Worst of all, as my emotions are heightened, my moods will change and it will affect the communication between Wes and me (aka, we'll get into fights).  The fights usually entail something about miscommunication, or misunderstanding, or faulty expectations, or invalidation.  Shake that mixture well, and pour over the open wounds of our youth-- the scream-inducing reaction is not conducive for gentle speaking tones and prime listening skills.  It becomes a wrestling match of blame and pride and victimization and guilt.  Not to mention it's colosseum style - we fight to the death.

But I was never more aware of Wes' love and fight-diffusion-skills until last week; I can't even remember what we were arguing about (go figure), but I remember these things happened:

  1. Wes left me alone to go cry. That in itself was meaningful.  He's realized that instead of figuring things out immediately, solving things on the spot, the space between us allows me to have a level head, and I'm less apt to say hurtful things in heightened emotions.
  2. But even if he gave me space, he stayed.  He never left the house, he just waited in another room.
  3. It wasn't solely that he gave me space, and that he stayed, but after a length of time, he came back, laid next to me, held me, and let me cry more.  Of course, the bigger response to this would have been for me to come up to him with my tail between my legs and say I was sorry for letting emotional outbursts get the best of me.  But I think the significance of this is that it takes courage to love.  It is an act of courage to move towards someone (especially like myself), so volatile and unpredictable. Indeed, in the middle of fights and arguments, the immediate response is self-preservation, defensiveness, self-justification.  But to say "I care about you enough to move towards you in love, even if you might hurt me" - this is courage.  This is love.


"I know you're not mad at me.  You're just in a lot of pain, you never had time to heal, and you're more likely to take it out on me," he said.  I wept even more.  I never mean to hurt him, I told him, I don't like who this wedding has made me be.  I'm more stressed and anxious, more prone to being less of a friend, and more of a spacey a**hole.  But honestly, I swear it's not the wedding.  The wedding just so happens to be the fire, the hot water to extract all the ugliness that's been sitting at my core, waiting for me to be too tired and weary to hide.

Marriage is a stage for two people to act out their deepest dysfunctions.

When we fight, Wes doesn't always approach me that way, but that day he did.  We both knew the pain he was referring to.  We both know that in these outbursts, it's likely that I'm not angry at Wes, I'm angry at my upbringing, I'm angry at people from former failed relationships, I'm ridiculously angry at myself - and I never got my frustrations out.  Those people hurt me, I hurt myself, and I've been looking for vindication and never felt the fullness of forgiveness and freedom.

As much as Wes recognized his best approach in that moment, there were things that I too needed to face.  Courage for Wes looked like approaching a screaming banshee.  And for me, courage for me was to let him love me.  To not wallow in my hurts and become a repetitive victim.  To let him approach me in the places that are vulnerable and frightening.  To admit that I am that hurt person who hurts people.  To allow him to see the open wound, and maybe pour some stinging, though healing salve.  Weird how we allow our wounds to fester because healing itself can also be painful.

I began apologizing him for the way that I am.  Except instead of condemning me, he took my snotty face into his hands and tells me so gently that he already forgave me three years ago when he chose to commit himself to me.  He told me that he came into this knowing my brokenness and ready to be gracious towards it.

Wes isn't the type of person to be full of woo or charm, he says the things he means, and he means it fully and honesty.  I don't say that as a degradation, I say that because that tells me he means every word.  And that's the kind of lie-shattering statement that breaks the cages I keep myself in- that I need to work for grace, that I need to be better, that I need to be perfect before I can be loved.

It's as if I never understood salvation, hey? It's like I never understood it whenever Paul wrote in Romans that when we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  It's like I blocked the verse out of my head because it's such an overplayed verse that we've used in tracts on the Romans Road to Evangelism.  But I am watching God love me through the way the Wes loves me.  And I am feeling loved, by both of them.

We've diffused fights in the past, and I can't tell you what about this particular transaction for an unknown argument was so healing.  Maybe because I let myself be vulnerable.  Maybe because I wasn't denying my pain.  Maybe because Wes moved towards me in compassion and selfless love.  Maybe it was a combination of everything above.  But I can tell you that understanding what courage looks like for yourself- it's the thing that brings out the best of your love and diffuses the worst of fights. It's the thing that rebuilds bridges, that confronts pain, and allows the hurts to heal.


currently reading: You and Me Forever, Francis Chan
currently listening: Without Words: Synesthesia, Bethel Music
currently watching: Gilmore Girls

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Psalm 66

I will come to Your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to you - vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
Psalm 66.13-14

We're no stranger to both the desire and the guilt that comes with crying out to God in times of distress.  Things happen.  We lose control.  We don't know what to do.  And we come before God in both our need and want, feeling the weight that we cannot do this on our own, and also a heavy "sorry I only come when I need You."  And sometimes, we build these promises and commitments "I'll be better at prayer, better at daily devotions, better at setting a Godly example in my lifestyle."  We add worship music to our rotation.  We clean up our language.  We are present at church - physically for some, mentally for us all.

And when the peace finally comes, however long it takes, and when the peace becomes familiar, we stand back up, we walk forward, we gain back our confidence.  And we gain back out belief that we are strong enough and have the clarity to take control again.

The cycle continues.  We're no stranger to it.

God in His mercy cannot abandon us, He comes to our rescue, He comforts us.  But He never does it because we've made these promises.  In His love, He would have exemplified His fatherly compassion without precedent.  But it's those promises.  The ones that WE make.  The ones that prove how finicky we are in our commitment, how fleeting is our trust in the one who is unseen.

If only we could hold up our bargain! If only we understood the relationship dynamic of being in communion with God.  If only we realized the weight of our vows, and knew how unfaithful we are, making promises we only intended to keep, and never set out to do.  If only we saw the immeasurable forgiveness God has for souls like ours, the way His love is so relentless to our casual hearts.

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me.
I cried out to Him with my mouth; His praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.
Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld His love from me!
Psalm 66.16-20


currently reading: Scary Close by Donald Miller
currently listening: Laura Mvula with Metropole Orkest by Laura Mvula

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Lessons of 2015

On my way home from work yesterday, I listened to Bernie Roth on Tech Nation and he said:

It's ok to fail.  It's not ok not to learn.

Like many of us, I am looking back at 2015, and have one outstanding descriptor: it was hard.  And a hard year doesn't mean it was a bad year, it just means I've faced difficulties and chose to brave the struggle.  And in many ways, I have both failed and learned a lot, and there are still countless things I am still learning.

I have a hard time writing down resolutions for this new year, because achieving a list of things that I could not do previously can somewhat be.. well.. disappointing.  I think that's why we give up so easily come mid-February.  Instead, what I like to do is celebrate the things that I have learned, and allow myself to look at this list and say: yes, I DID accomplish this, and it IS possible to still bring this into the new year.  So without further preface, here are my lessons from 2015 that I'll still be learning for a while:

  1. I learned that in order to embrace a new life, you need to leave what you know.  I learned that we need to grieve good things.  And sometimes, we treat these transitions as horrendous divorces, when we can really treat them as graduations.  They are moments to celebrate, and to keep the "souvenirs" of what was good, learn from what was bad, and to move on.  And the thing about graduations is that everything is new - the surroundings, the circumstances, and you.  You learn to adapt. You grow.  You move on.

  2. I realized how much my life decisions were based off of accommodating people and making them happy with me.  I learned (will still be learning) that I cannot please everyone.  There is a point when I need to make decisions for myself and my future.  Not out of selfish ambition, but out of obedience to a bigger calling.

  3. I understand rest.  God did not rest after 6 days of creating because He was tired, but because He said it was good.  I understand that true rest comes from contentment and being satisfied.  I am a workaholic- sometime it is for the love of the work, and sometimes because I am dissatisfied.  And in the times I am dissatisfied, I need to ask myself - why am I working so hard?  What am I trying to prove, and to who?  I am learning to work from a place of peace, and allow for the moments of rest.

  4. "Love what you do." There's the millennial mindset to "Do what you love," but for a hustling (near-broke) artist, I'd say "love what you do." Your paying job may not be your dream job, but if you are content, not spilling your thoughts and energy on what should have been your "now," you've reserved your strength to do the things that you love the most.

  5. I learned that God is more present in the places that I have excluded Him.  "I'm not entitled to judge the worship of others, I have no right to declare that my way of connecting with God is better, more efficient, more loved - the Abel sacrifice. I've come to terms that God has a way of working in my life, and I can celebrate that. He has a way of working in other churches, and I can celebrate that (Musings on the Modern Church, 3)"

  6. This probably is the biggest mind-blower for me: After some really difficult struggles, I learned from my pastor's wife, who is also a marriage therapist, that the 1.5-2 year mark in any kind of relationship (romantic, friendship, work, ministry, etc) is always the hardest.  That's when guards start coming down, people are more vulnerable, a lot of flaws are revealed.  Grace starts to run out a little, and the confrontations can either make or break you.  But the beautiful part is that THIS IS NORMAL.  You don't realize what a weight was lifted!  I thought I was just crazy.  I thought I was cursed.  I wondered why all jobs maxed around 2 years.  I wondered why some relationships felt strained.  But it isn't just me.  We all change. We grow.  We become more honest with ourselves and those around us.  And we either choose to let it shape us or separate us.

  7. Speaking of honesty, I've learned the true healing powers of being honest, and being in an honest community.  Perfection basically raised me, and I've hid many things in junk drawers and in closets.  I've learned to embrace my story, not run away from it.  I can say "That's who I was, I don't like who I was then, but I am not that person now."  

  8. I confronted this of myself - there was a mistake I made eight years ago that I regret to this day.  No matter how I want to make things how they used to be, the garment is torn, and the patchwork will never look the same.  Because of this, I've lived vicariously through other relationships/friendships with the fear that I have the capability to destroy this; I've both held myself back from connection, and also sought reconciliation.  But I have learned to forgive myself.  If someone I loved has hurt me, what would I say to them? I should say that to myself.  I should be kind to myself.  Gracious to myself.  It's painful having a bully with you everyday.

  9. Compassion is so difficult on social media. If you say "Pray for Paris," someone will say "What about Beirut?" And if you say "I welcome refugees," someone will say "What about the homeless in your city?" And if you change your profile picture, what does that really mean? If "All Lives Matter," then our love is never enough, and it feels easier to say nothing at all - and even when we say nothing, it's as if "No Lives Matter." Everyone's a critic about the things that move us, but at least we are moved, and that in itself makes us human. So I say, express whatever makes you feel humane.

  10. Lastly, I learned to make marshmallows from scratch.  And it was delightful.

Truly, a lot of these lessons were heavily influenced by my church, Imagine.  I'm happy to be a part of a community that doesn't force me to hide what the average church doesn't want to see.  I'm happy that they allow me to be honest and open, that they don't welcome just the marginalized in society, but they welcome the pharisees too.  I journey beside others who are now friends, and am reminded that I am not alone- our freedoms are never just for ourselves, but for others too.

If I do make a resolution this year, it is to be bold and brave- in my honesty, in my creativity, in loving.  And may the lessons I have learned last year be my companions.